Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Practical, Relational Repercussions of the Trinity

In the first verse of the “Shema,” the Bible clearly states that there is but one God, who is in himself one. The eternally self-existent "I AM" (YHWH), the Creator of heaven and earth is one, but he has further revealed himself as embodying within himself the principles of relationship and association entailed in being Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is a trinity, a unity of three persons. It is his very nature.

In some respect, we can “reverse engineer” the nature of humankind to understand the perplexing, trinitarian nature of God. We were made in the image of God, and so we are reflective of his nature, at least in some key ways. For instance, I am a father, but I am also a son, and there is a sense of me, a “vibe” let's call it, that is accessible to those around me. I am a finite and flawed reflection of the infinite God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit--in this respect.

Furthermore, when God looked at Adam, alone in the Garden, his response was that it was not good for man to be alone. Why? Could it be that since God in himself is not alone, and we are made to be like him, it was not good (i.e reflective of God) for man to be alone either? No man is an island, he was never intended to be. Humankind is made in the image of a triune, relational Godhead, and are not what they should be out of fellowship with others of their kind.

God's desire is that we would reflect him, not only in ourselves, but also with each other as Jesus stated in such soaring language in his “High Priestly Prayer.” The Trinity is not just an arcane church doctrine hammered out so long ago: it’s a practical understanding of God, and by extension, us. The relational Godhead has called us into relationship with him, like him. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is more than a formula for baptism, it’s the fundamental nature of God, and it is the relational fabric we’re being woven into as the children of God.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Day for Father

Fathers' Day is upon us, another Hallmark moment meant to sell drivel in greeting cards--right? Primarily, yes! If we truly desired to honor our fathers (or mothers, for that matter) we'd respect them, obey them (if we're still under their roofs), and pay attention to their instruction 365 days a year. It's not like one day a year can wash out 364 days of disrespect, disobedience and disconnection. Of course, some of that is a two way street; regardless, I think you get my point.

There is one Father, I think, who gets more disrespect and neglect than all others combined. That is our heavenly Father. He's bigger, stronger and more important than all our earthly fathers, so at least some small portion among us deign to give him one day a week of props rather than one day a year. But still, doesn't he deserve more than that? Apparently, the appeal of eternity spent with the heavenly Father gains no traction with those who live for the here and now--and that includes church folk!  The masses outside don't even want to hear about the heavenly Father.

I hope you take the time on Fathers Day to communicate your love, respect and gratitude to your earthly father, if you still have him. Better yet, I hope you take the day to express the same to your heavenly Father--as long as you remember, that with God, a day is 1000 years! Everday, you see, is a day for our Father.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Word is Sufficient to Describe God's Omniscience

What can we know with certainty about God? Is he even knowable on an objective basis? I think the answer would have to be no, at least for the natural man. There are things that are ascertainable about God by the natural man, some reasonable suppositions can be made by the natural man, but knowing about God with any accuracy, and knowing him personally are impossible to natural man.

God has intervened in and interrupted the lives of natural men in the past, which resulted in them coming to know God. Apparently, natural man is not so bereft of what it takes so as to be totally incapable of "getting something" when spoken to or confronted by God. Abraham, who is the model for all the rest of us, certainly proves the point, as do Noah and Moses.

I don't see how we can with any verifiability know or understand how God's "brain" works. How he knows all that he knows or wills what comes to pass is beyond discovering: it's just a given, part of his nature we accept without having the capacity to understand it or plumb its depths. We can know what God tells us; really, that is all we can know about God. In that sense, his Word is sufficient to bring us into the knowledge of God, at least the knowledge he would like us to have.

What does his word say about what he knows? It tells us that God's knowledge is such that he is capable of knowing things that could have happened but did not (2 Kings 13:19, I Samuel 23:12, Matthew 11:21). It tells us that we are an open book to God: that our thoughts are our thoughts and not his (Jeremiah 7:31, Isaiah 55:8-9), and yet that he knows our thoughts before we think them (Psalm 139:1-6). The word says that God knows what he knows without reference to time. In short, if it can or will be known, or even could have been known, God knows it.

How can a human truly comprehend all this, or understand it sufficiently to say how it works? We're not God--we cannot do what he does nor understand what he understands. We do have his word, however, and it tells us what we can and need to know about him. We may not be able to put all the pieces of the God puzzle together, but the word is sufficient to describe all that we can know about his omniscience.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Does Determinism Undermine Total Depravity?

Theological determinism is the thought that everything occurs because God determined it would before it did. When he actualized the creation, everything followed, and follows, the course decreed for it by God. It is a logical consequence of God's sovereignty, if freewill is not factored in. There are some subtleties and some variations that are possible, but in general, that is how I take determinism.

Total Depravity, in Calvinist theology, is the doctrine that mankind was so flawed by Adam's sin as to be rendered utterly incapable of any true good, without any ability or desire whatsoever to perceive or believe God or to walk according to his command. The doctrine is actually very similar in Armininian conceptions, except, most strikingly, that Arminians believe faith can arise in the depraved through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, whereas Calvinists believe faith cannot occur until the depraved has become the regenerated (i.e. born again).

The question that has been roiling through my brain is how the two theories can be held without excluding one another. If determinism is true, then mankind is not depraved, but is exactly, no more and no less, what God willed and wants them to be. If they are not, only he could be at fault, for only his will carries any weight!

If freewill is an illusion, then so is depravity, at least in any moralistic sense. We are merely as we are programmed to be, and do exactly what God determined for us to do. We are not incapable of walking in God's will, but in fact, whatever we do is precisely God's very will. That doesn't sound depraved to me.

I don't think anyone would posit that a furry little shrew is depraved, because it is and does what it is meant to by God's determination. If we are and do what God has determined for us, then I say, neither are we depraved. But since the scriptures are more than clear on the subject, I say determinism will have to go by the wayside.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

No Parlor Tricks Necessary

Divine prescience is a difficult issue for Christians. In the Bible, God demonstrates an exhaustive knowledge of things, which from our perspective, had not yet occurred. What does that say about how the universe is actually managed by God? One approach might suggest that God foreknows what is going to happen in the universe, because it was settled before it happened; or in other words, the happenings were predetermined by God. Another approach could suggest that God foreknows what will happen strictly as a matter of awareness, or omniscience, rather than necessary causation.

Regardless of what one might theorize about prescience, we should at least be clear about this: the universe, as it is, is actively sustained by the omnipotent God. Since God is the omnipotent sustainer of all things, I think reason would come to the conclusion that everything that is and that happens is so and does so because made so by God. The problem with that viewpoint is that no matter how nicely it fits the demands of reason, it doesn't quite fit the demands of scripture (this too). It may make sense, but God says it isn't so! He does things differently than that, but separating causation from observation is a difficult knot to cut, even in our endeavors.

Since I do not know how to go toe to toe with God, my response is to take the word of the Omniscient and to adjust my view of reason so it aligns with his revelation. Some of this disconnect is attributable to God's otherliness. Time is a dimension of the creation, not the Creator. He cannot be constrained nor measured by his creation, because he is other than it, therefore outside of time. His creation can tell us lots about his divine attributes, but it cannot tell us how he interacts with spacetime.

Theorizing God's action as if he was governed, constrained or obligated by time is bound to fall short of understanding how he actually sees or does things (if the timebound even could!). All he is bound to do is what he said he will do, and all that we can know in regard to that is what he tells us. To think that God can only know something before it happens because he caused it to happen, puts God into creation's constraints and binds him with our timeline. He certainly did not reveal to us that is how he knows things, particularly concerning people!

It is simpler and more correct to posit God's foreknowledge as a consequence of his otherliness. He sees the end from the beginning, and the beginning from the end. The picture is of an incomprehensible "pan-time" viewpoint. In his timeless omnipotence he is able to grant independent willful impetus to his creatures; whereby in his omniscience, he is able to thoroughly know and understand what they will think and do, without regard to the time in which they do it. He is able to intervene, react and steer the course of events in time without getting tangled in it, though he is omnipresent.

Whereas God's foreknowledge is exhaustive, he does not rely on exhaustive determinism to make it so. He is outside of time, after all, and capable of more than clever parlor tricks!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Passing Vanity of Evil

Jesus said, "God alone is good." What does that mean, exactly?

It certainly is saying something about ultimacy and uniqueness. Good is a value, God is so valuable in this regard as to be alone on his playing field. There is God and nothing else when it comes to plumbing the depths of that value, good. It is not said here that God is good because, or in relation to: God himself is what good is, period. So to know if something is good, lay it beside God and compare, how does it measure up to the standard.

Sometimes I think we frame our conceptions of God's virtues in the wrong way in order to "prove" that God is good (i.e. God could never do this or that, or God can not do this or that), but God does whatever he wants and there is no power in heaven or earth that can make him do other. Whatever he says or whatever he does is the very definition of good, it is the standard. He is the standard, and it is left for us to trust him.

The question of contigencies with God is inconsequential. Whether he would have or could have done something else, something better, something more or even less good, is a complete abstraction. We have what's he's said and done and that's it. Is it really possible to imagine another course for the omniscient and omnipotent? I don't have a brain that operates in that realm, does anyone? Of what value or reliability could our musings be?

I believe that good and evil and the option to do one or the other come into play only in the interaction between God and other beings having the power to will. Really, the existence of evil proves the existence of freewill! Evil only exists where a will opposing God's can be expressed, for evil is only evil because it is will expressed in opposition to his. Evil is not an independent, universal value and will not exist in eternity, it's really nothing but a passing vanity.